14. How to talk to journalists

Remember that journalists rarely have any training in biology other than what they learned in high-school, which they probably have forgotten. Remember that they have time constraints -- they must get their story into press rapidly. When they interview you, they will be scribbling rapidly, and may miss a lot of what you think is important.

How can you help them?

If you know they will be coming to interview you:

1. If you can, have pictures (slides) ready to give to them, and provide them with printed captions. Don't expect to see these pictures again.

2. Make a printed handout to give to them.

3. Offer to check their stories for them after the stories are drafted. Give them your phone and fax numbers. If they are in a tearing hurry, they won't take you up on this. But some of them have more leeway for "human interest" stories.

Your usual misunderstandings with journalists will be:

a. They probably don't know the difference between a species and a variety and a type (SECTION 6) -- they prefer to avoid using the word "species" except in the expression "endangered species." If you need to use the word "species", explain in your handout.

b. They prefer not to use scientific names of species, so can't you please provide a "common" (= vernacular) name (SECTION 8). Do it if you can, otherwise explain in your handout.

c. They probably don't know that species names (scientific names) are binomens (have 2 words) with the first word capitalized, the second not capitalized, both words underlined or italicized (SECTION 6, 7). Explain in your handout.

d. They probably don't understand higher classification in biology (SECTION 6). If you need to use a word from higher classification, explain in your handout.

e. They probably don't know the singular forms of the words algae, agenda, bacteria, criteria, data, larvae, pupae, and a bunch of other words of Latin or Greek origin. If you must use these words, include them in your handout (SECTION 4).

f. They probably don't know the difference between a predator and a parasite (parasitoid is not in their vocabulary), so explain in your handout.

It is worth your time to help a journalist with "your" story.

If you don't do the things above to try to help, you are likely to be unhappy with the printed version because of the errors. Worse: the public may be misled, and future generations of students may be misled because the press reaches a wide audience. Ponder how it is that many journalists write about "an algae" and how many incoming students think that "a larvae" is the correct expression, and how many incoming students think that Aedes aegypti (or Aedes Aegypti or "the aedes aegypti") is "a variety of mosquitos."

If you don't know they are coming to visit you, so you have no time to prepare a handout, good luck -- do your best.